Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

Image: Megan Ann, Flickr.

  1. Josh Freedman and Michael Lind consider America’s next social contract in The Atlantic.
  2. Joel Kotkin observes that increasingly Democratic Silicon Valley will pose challenges for progressives. Digital plutocrat supporters and rhetoric condemning the “1%” could eventually lead to stress within the Democratic coalition.
  3. BBC Future has published an infographic that maps its view of humanity’s possible future in 1,000 years, 10,000 years and 10 quadrillion years.
  4. Researcher Christopher Bettinger of Carnegie Mellon University has detailed his vision for an “edible battery” that could be used to power biomedical devices. The battery, which uses pigment from the cuttlefish, could power swallowed devices from 5 to 24 hours, based on use. Bettinger’s paper outlining the idea was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  5. In the wake of a raft of new connected, “smart” devices showcased at last week’s CES, Ars Technica takes a deeper look at the security questions and concerns the Internet of Things raises.




Image: Snapchat

One of the central conceits of the Internet is that once something is published, it is out in public forever. This is so basic an idea that sitcom characters were joking about back in 1996 (1996!). But in the post-Snowden age, there is greater interest in being able to limit the data shared on the Internet, or to be able to scrub your data later. New laws and a flurry of new products could help make Internet content more ephemeral.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown just signed a bill that would give users under the age of 18 the ability to purge their social media profiles from the Internet. This may be welcome news for kids who want to have fun, but also want to get into good schools, get good jobs, etc.  A report from May 2013 found that 1 in 10 young job applicants missed out on a job due to a social media post and that nearly one-third of Millennials regret some social media posts.

But an alternative to scrubbing data from the Internet is limiting its lifespan. This is the premise behind mobile photo-messaging app Snapchat, which allows user to set a lifespan for how long a message will last in the recipient’s in-box before self-deleting. The service has become wildly popular, with users sending 350 million messages a day. The ‘self-destruct’ feature means that users can send pictures that might be questionable, with less chance they will become permanent.

Akin to Snapchat is a web-based picture service called BlinkLink, which limits the number of people who could view your photo. But whereas Snapchat sets a time limit, BlinkLink sets a viewer limit. Users can set the number of viewers who can see the picture and once the click-through is reached, the photo disappears.

While privacy and control are prime functions of Snapchat, BlinkLink’s limited viewership (which also offers privacy) reveals a second benefit of these kinds of apps: Exclusivity. By publicizing content on Snapchat or BlinkLink and then limiting access to it, via time or number of viewers, users can create exclusivity and demand for their content. Brands looking to generate buzz for new products could do so through the ‘limited-time-only’ features of these apps.

Of course, if none of these laws or apps are enough for you, you could use lasers to create a ‘time hole’ and effectively erase your data from time.

Image: woodelywonderworks, Flickr.

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

  1. A survey conducted by digital analytic firm Annalect has found that consumer concern about online security and personal privacy concerns has jumped since the NSA data collection revelations by Edward Snowden. According to Annalect’s data, which comes from an already on-going longitudinal survey of online privacy, 37% of Internet users who were concerned about the revelations made changes to online behavior.
  2. BlinkLink is an online counterpart to SnapChat. The service limits how many people can view a photo before ‘self-destructs.” This could be used to enhance privacy or create a sense of immediacy and exclusivity around the content.
  3. Clothing retailer J. Crew, which began as a catalog-only retailer before opening brick-and-mortar outlets, has published its September 2013 catalog exclusively on Pinterest.
  4. Apple has patented a technology that can temporarily shut down smartphone cameras and prevent image and video sharing in specifc GPS-defined areas. Such a technology could be useful in “geofencing” secure facilities, or even movie theaters. A more ominous application would be in giving police the ability to shut down smartphone recorders during protests, riots, or during police chases and arrests.
  5. The Working Mother Research Institute has found that nearly three-fourths of working mothers in the US would choose not to work full-time if their financial circumstances didn’t require it –in other words, they “equate work with something done only to pick up a paycheck.”

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

Image: Stew Dean, Flickr.

  1. UK artist Agatha Haines’ latest project explores the idea of using human-animal hybrid organs to prevent disease in humans. For example, her Electrostabilis Cardiumposits fusing genes from an electric eel with cardiac tissue that could deliver a shock to stabilize a cardiac arrhythmia. Another example is Cerebrothrombal Dilutus, which would use cells from the salivary gland of a leech to create a natural anti-coagulant to stave off blood clots.
  2. Robotic cars could remake many aspects of cities, Nick Bilton writes in the New York Times.
  3. Researchers at the University of Maryland have hit upon the idea of using a thin layer of wood coated in conductive carbon nanotubes as a way to address problems with sodium-ion batteries. Sodium-ion batteries are seen as more environmentally friendly than current lithium-ion batteries and cheaper too. The problem is that they fall apart after only 20 charges, and the anode swells up. Early tests show the wood fiber wrap holds the battery together and also allows for up to 400 charges.
  4. Belgian researchers have developed a new technique for In-vitro fertilization that drops the cost of IVF to $250. [Note: Years ago I came across an observation/forecast that in 1900 both conception and birth were performed at home, in 2000 most births now occur in a hospital while conception happens at home, and by 2100 both conception and birth will occur with medical assistance. This forecast seems to be tracking along nicely.]
  5. A fresh post from Advertising Age, responding to recent revelations of NSA spying, warns of the potential for public backlash against marketers’ use of consumer data for commercial purposes. “But what happens if consumers figure out how regularly, deeply and expertly we marketers track their behaviors, and in doing so blur the line between between convenience and manipulation? Our snooping puts the National Security Agency to shame.”

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

Image: Jim68000, Flickr.

  1. Toyota, GM, and other auto manufacturers are once again developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, as technology improvements are reducing costs and calculations indicate that the cars will significantly out-perform internal combustion vehicles on emissions, even when emissions from the production of hydrogen from natural gas are included. Setting up a hydrogen distribution network remains an important barrier.
  2. Adam Penenberg outlines a scenario of just what life with ubiquitous augmented reality might be like.
  3. According to The Economist, a new generation of diesel passenger cars will outperform hybrids in fuel economy and challenge even electric vehicles. More than a dozen diesels available in Europe already outperform the Toyota Prius hybrid.
  4. As concerns about personal privacy in the emerging Google Glass era (not to mention the current age of the ever-present cameraphone) grow, new apps are being developed to restore some privacy controls. INTIMatic is a mobile app that automatically pixelates the faces in the pictures it takes.
  5. British Airways is testing new reusable baggage tags with an e-ink display. The tags can be coded to display passenger flight info via the passengers smartphone. The reusable tag could save some time for passengers (and airlines) at check-in/bag drop-off.

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

Image: Jim68000, Flickr.

  1. New iPhone app in  Iceland ensures that cousins don’t  become “kissing cousins.”
  2. Phillips has developed prototypes of a tubular LED light that could be retrofit into existing overhead fluorescent fixtures. Although the tubular LED bulbs will have a significant cost premium, they offer twice the efficiency of fluorescent bulbs, and generate warm light that is closer to incandescent bulbs.
  3. A writer identifies nine kinds of bad futurism. (We believe that we avoid these traps at Foresight Alliance.)
  4. In the wake of the Boston bombing and manhunt, Richard Fernandez sketches out a possible future of reputation based private security. Access to public events, stores, airplanes, restaurants, and other private spaces could be restricted to verified “club” members, creating a system of segregation through reputation.
  5. The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive is about to begin planting cloned cuttings from some of the world’s oldest redwood trees. The project is two-fold: to rehabilitate redwood forests and to use the (potentially) giant trees as carbon sinks. The new saplings being planted in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany, are cloned from some of the oldest redwoods in the world, with the understanding that these trees must have superior genes to have survived this long.


Image: micahb37 (Flickr)

A report last week about the continued decline of the cost of genetic sequencing got me thinking about genetic privacy.

The fabled “$1,000 genome” is coming into view, the pricepoint at which full sequencing can begin to be part of routine medical care in the developed world.

That pricepoint also opens sequencing up for non-medical purposes; someone could do so to find out about a partner, employee, or celebrity, as long as you could obtain some kind of genetic sample.

Celebrities are highly plausible targets; an entire industry seeks out and distributes every little detail about their lives, and genetics promises insight into medical conditions, behavioral quirks, and propensities–all fertile ground for celebrity gossip. Of course, a lot of the information genetics could currently produce will be vague and pseudoscientific, but that hardly matters  for this purpose.

This raises several questions:

  • Is it illegal to have someone else’s genome sequenced?
  • What happens if one has it done in another jurisdiction, as such sequencing will soon be possible in many places with lax enforcement?
  • What are the penalties, given that candid celebrity photos can earn five and six figures?

In the future, I suspect that actress Scarlett Johannson might be more leery of selling a used tissue for only $5,300.


The news that Bing was integrating public Facebook information into its search results was interesting to me on one point: privacy. I know, I know, Facebook and privacy, blah blah blah. (I will avoid discussion about the complexity of FB’s privacy settings, as it has been done to death elsewhere).

Now Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook stated that any information pulled up by Bing would only be that marked by Facebook users to be public. But what tweaked my interest was something that data mining expert Robert Grossman, head of the National Center for Data Mining, told NPR reporter Stacey Vanek Smith: “The likes of friends is one of the most predictive variables of your own likes.” By making public ‘likes’ searchable, Facebook and Bing take a step toward building a consumer profile of you, even if you impose the tightest of restrictions on the sharing of your Facebook data. Whether you like it or not, you are going to become one of the data mined consumer clusters Vanek Smith reported about in her story.

What intrigues me about all of this is how very ‘Red Scare’ it is in execution. You as a consumer are being targeted not only for who you are, but the company you keep. Apologies to my Facebook friends, but while they are all good people, I find a lot of what they ‘like’ to be inane. (But then, I also think the Like button itself is pretty inane. It’s used far too indiscriminately.) Do I want to be tarred with their brush? Or marketed their bad movies or uninteresting books?

Image: Marcopako (Flickr)

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